June 2, 2007

Reed Elsevier to stop organizing arms fairs

In mid-April I posted an item about the campaign to get Reed Elsevier out of the arms trade business, which had a link to a well-organized petition drive. I found out about the issue from Mark Rosenzweig, who tried to bring the issue up for discussion on the ALA Council list, where it was ignored. Privately, he was told by some Councilors that customers of a company like Reed Elsevier (whose subsidiary Reed Business Information publishes Library Journal) could not have any effect on its business practices in a completely different area.

Today’s news is good and serves to show that those of us who did sign the petition didn’t do it in vain. Reed Elsevier is pulling out of organizing arms fairs. According to Reed Elsevier they made the change under “pressure which included complaints from customers, shareholders and academics writing for its major titles.”

I think Mark Rosenzweig is correct in scolding ALA Council for sleeping through this (though I have to admit I could have backed him up on the Council list; I didn’t do anything beyond posting an item here and signing the petition).

Thanks to Martyn Lowe for sharing this news.

Venezuela’s media and the U.S. media

Two items regarding recent mainstream news reports telling the story that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is cracking down on free speech in refusing to renew RCTV’s license. First, Robert McChesney unpacks the issue and provides some of the facts and context that have been buried, showing how “the US media coverage of Venezuela‚Äôs RCTV controversy says more about the deficiencies of our own news media that it does about Venezuela.” Also, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has an analysis of recent coverage on the issue which does a great job of showing the mainstream media’s bias in favor of the Bush administration on this issue, and its lack of perspective or context. Both commentators point out that a television station attempting to incite a coup in the United States would have been shut down long ago, and its operators tried for treason.

There is an unfortunate cognitive bias among many librarians that says that mainstream sources, ones that seem not to be activist in nature, are automatically more reliable and objective. This is commonly stated as a basic guideline in evaluating information sources, without reasons given, and without awareness of issues in media theory. A companion to the idea that “mainstream means objective” are the anti-intellectual ideas that “everything balances out,” and that “for every argument there is an equally valid counterargument.” This kind of thinking makes our professionalism irrelevant, and makes literacy irrelevant as well. For a profession that claims to specialize in information literacy, as a group we know a lot less about issues of bias than we should. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s magazine, Extra!, should be required reading in library schools (to recommend a very easy starting point).